Month: March 2014

At Home in the Garden State

When you travel and you are from New Jersey, a familiar feeling arises when someone asks you where you are from – which is that of dread. This is actually a little disheartening considering that New Jersey isn’t a half bad state at all – we have brilliant beaches, intoxicating cities, and quaint suburbs. However, one thing that non-Jerseyans are often surprised to hear (and normally don’t believe anyway, even though it’s on our license plates) is that New Jersey is a true garden state. We are surrounded by rolling hills and colossal forests that make for great weekend getaways when the city becomes too much to bear. Now that spring is on its way, take the plunge and visit some of these green destinations. Drive over to Jersey. I promise you won’t end up in the Hudson.

1. Hot air balloon over the hills. Hot air ballooning is pricey, but it’s a pretty cool way to glaze over the green Jersey landscape (even if you can only afford to do it once). Hitting between 500 and 2500 feet and lasting around an hour, you can take a look at the reservoirs, mountainsides, and even nearby New York City from your balloon. Per passenger, you can pay $215 at Balloons Aloft located in Pittstown, about a half an hour southeast from Easton, Pennsylvania.

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 Image courtesy of USA Hot Air

2. Tube down the Delaware River. Get off the ground for a little bit by renting a tube, kayak, or canoe and sift on through the Delaware for an afternoon. You won’t have to be bogged by a guide and you can get out and swim (or sleep in the boat) as much as you like. It’s a pretty easy go too – no need to worry about trying to fight down some rapids. For between $26 and $51 per rider for a five to six mile trip (anywhere between 2.5 to four hours depending on your rental), you can visit Delaware River Tubing in Frenchtown, about 35 minutes southeast of Easton, Pennsylvania.

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 Image courtesy of NJ.com

3. Rent a cabin for non-camping. I don’t know about you, but my idea of camping is hanging out at the Hilton down the street with no pool access. However, there are alternatives. If you want to hang by the forest but aren’t too keen on sleeping in a tent (umm, there are animals and stuff out there) then consider renting a cabin, preferably one near actual stuff to do (and a pool). Check out the Countryside Cottages in Bartonsville, Pennsylvania which you can rent from $200 a night and stay close to the Tannersville Outlets, American Candle, tons of casinos, and Camelback Mountain Resort.

4. Horseback ride through the West. The West of New Jersey, that is. A great way to revamp your hiking habits is to ride a horse instead and get in touch with nature without ever having to touch the ground. For $40 for an hour ride and $180 for a day-long ride at Top View Riding Ranch, you can trek through the Paulinskill Trail and ramble through the river in Blairstown, about 25 minutes east of Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania.

5. Drink fine wines. New Jersey is literally littered with wineries, which isn’t particularly shocking considering the drinks we must consume to deal with the taxes in this state. Wineries are an awesome way to spend some time outside, drink something besides Barefoot, and eat some cheese. At Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, you pay $10 to sample several wines alongside cheeses and meats, get a glass to take home, and cruise the vineyard itself in a golf cart afterwards – unsupervised.

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6. Dance with wolves. Zoos not really your thing? It’s cool. Check out the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, about 15 minutes southeast of East Stroudsberg, and get on a guided tour for $15 for an hour and a half to see and learn about four different packs of wolves. At the Preserve, you can also do a 1/2 mile hike or hang out in the observation area.

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 Image courtesy of Lakota Wolf Preserve

7. Zipline down the mountainside. If the amusement park is a bit of a hike for you this weekend, consider taking your thrills to the skies by ziplining this great state and getting some awesome views of the mountains and countryside. For $65 a person, hit the Mountain Creek Zipline Tour in Vernon (one hour from Paramus) with ziplines ranging from 200 feet to 1500 feet suspended above a mountaintop lake.

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 Image courtesy of Advertiser News South

8. Take a hike (and skip the gym). Hiking is the easiest and cheapest way to get in touch with nature, especially in New Jersey, a state that is flooded with parks and trails that are tempting to get lost on. As Carrie’s crazy ex-boyfriend in Sex and the City once so eloquently stated, “Here’s a secret… hiking… is walking.” Anyway, you can find great hidden-away trails in most Jersey cities you happen to be in, however one favorite is Tourne County Park in Denville, about 15 minutes from Morristown. With 550 acres, a climb to the top of the park boasts phenomenal views of New York City in the distance.

9. Get on your old bike. Got a crappy old mountain bike? Bring it to your local park for a nice ride around and you won’t care when it gets dirty (or destroyed). Once again, parks run rampant in New Jersey, but a great spot for mountain biking is Schooley’s Mountain County Park in Long Valley (thirty minutes from Morristown) which you can tour for road bikes or mountain bikes around the lake, fields, and up the mountain itself for a spectacular view of the countryside below.

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 Image courtesy of Flickr User

10. Bring home dinner. If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon hanging out by the lake with a beer in one hand and a fishing pole in the other, New Jersey is the place to be, loaded with lakes and filled with fish.  Lake Hopatcong in Hopatcong, near Jefferson and Sparta, is the largest freshwater lake in New Jersey and has tons of docking stations for boats, lakeside bars (check out the Jefferson House, a community favorite), and insane mansions to gander at as you attempt to catch dinner for the wife but end up stopping at ShopRite instead.

Article idea courtesy of Nick Hodgins

The Literary Hunter

Reading awakens a thirst for the world. 

Most of my first visits to centuries-old cities, cerulean cities, and chilled cliffs didn’t take place via airplane. I didn’t have to stand in lines, spend money, or even miss classes. Instead, my original obsession with lands far away came through the written word, which I coincidentally now translate to you.

I’ve never stepped foot within 20 miles of Palmetto, Florida, but through As Hot As It Was You Oughta Thank Me, that didn’t occur to me until right now. I stumbled upon The Likeness long before I took a flight to Dublin, but I barely knew the difference. I probably will never get too close to Death Valley, but when I read Born to Run, I felt like I too conquered an ultra marathon over the terrain.

It saddens me when I meet people all day long who brag that they haven’t picked up a book since they were 15. Movies are pretty cool and TV is alright I guess, but reading a book alone at the end of the day when there is nothing else to do and no one else to see and even the world is finally quiet is a special experience in itself. How can you limit your influences of worldly travel to one form of communication? Why do you think that those drones on the screen are providing you with all the necessary information? How could it be that what is worthy is only being produced in this way?

I love reading so much that when I went abroad, I was deathly nervous that I would quickly run through the books I had brought to read while waiting in airports and wasting time in cafes. These fears quickly came to fruition. However, the cinching of this (obviously) didn’t bring the end of my habit – instead, it made it into a game.

Instead of pulling my next novel out from under my bed (or popping in a DVD) I now had to seek out food for thought like some kind of hunter. I scoured the dilapidated bookshelves in my Florence apartment, cautiously snagged books from friends’ places, raided piles of material from boxes at hostels, and always kept an eye out for roaming novels at airports. I was unstoppable. When I found another book that turned out to be weird, terrifying, comforting, or even enjoyable, I felt like I had cracked the code and I was a real bona fide traveler.

Now when I run amok, whether it’s at the local university, a lonely bakery, or just nearby an empty park bench, I always return the favor my fellow faceless travelers paid me – I leave my conquests behind for the next uninspired, bored kid. I know I’m not the only one, because I still frequently find these treasures every which way I turn and I often like to consider where this person was going and where they are now. Next time you find a book, pick it up, and consider choosing it instead of the TV today. You never know who loved it last.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451

ImagePhoto Credit of Mika Urbex

Things You Didn’t Know About Me

Normally, I am a huge advocate of not getting too personal on your blog. No one cares about the crap food you ate on the plane, the fact that the dude next to you kept touching your knee on the flight, or why you now regret traveling with your mom. However, 500+ followers and 137 posts later, I feel that it is time for you to hear a little bit more about the person who is always on the Life Aboard the Traveling Circus.

1. The first foreign country I visited was Norway, which I considered the Sears of the mall of Europe. When I was 17, my poor father toted my sister and I off to Norway to meet our family members in Bergen and get some culture in our blood. At first, we didn’t see it as such – it was effing cold in the pit of July, there was way too much hiking to be done, and we were sleeping in someone’s converted library. However, somewhere between the constant daylight and centuries-old city, the whole thing became kind of cool and Norway became our underdog of Europe instead of the store in the mall people never really want to go to unless they need a dishwasher. This trip spurred my need to see more; to get out of what was ordinary.

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Voss, Norway

2. My second trip to Europe was a three-week backpacking tour of Europe… armed with one other 17-year-old. I literally have no idea why my parents let me do this – probably because they don’t like me that much. Most people end up visiting our neighbors across the pond via school trip with chaperons and respected adults – I went with my high school friend armed with a backpack from my grandmother and some clothes I knew I wouldn’t miss. This can be considered jumping in with both feet – I had never even gone camping before. Nevertheless, it was my first real taste of venturing outside my comfort zone and into London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia.

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Loch Lomond, Scotland

3. I almost didn’t study abroad because I liked a boy. And then I signed up one day because I was feeling particularly adventurous. From my first year of college, I always thought about studying abroad, but it seemed like a far-off pipe dream with all the paperwork and planning that had to go into it – not easy considering my constantly changing majors and minors and over-analyzing nature (If this is you, go anyway. It’s gonna be OK). When I was getting ready to finally do it – sign up to go to London, England for the semester – something happened where I thought that the boy I liked throughout college was finally going to give me a chance (he didn’t). I hesitated and decided to give it another year to see what happened. The next year, I took a chance and moved in with my friend, which turned out awesome, and I figured why not give this one a go too? and that day, I put my name on the Florence, Italy list. I chose Florence based on a materialistic pro/con list my roommate and I made… that day.

4. I’ve never really lived anywhere for more than a short amount of time. Until I was in fifth grade, I had never been in the same school system for more than two years, and even after this, we continued to move around for various ridiculous reasons. Even if we weren’t getting ready for yet another move, I was rarely home; instead, I was constantly staying over friends’ houses and trying to create a home for myself and get on the ins with their families so I would always be welcome. I always spent a lot of time in cars… which is probably why I feel uncomfortable being in the same place for a long period of time now.

5. I crave the dirtiness of travel. I hate to admit it, and you probably wouldn’t guess it from following this blog, but I’m the most straitlaced and organized person you’ll ever meet. I am frequently picked on for my incessant list-making and perfectionism – I battle deep anxiety if everything isn’t in its place. However, this is why I am pulled towards travel – it is the precise opposite. I like not knowing, even if just for a bit, if I will be showering that day, what time I’m gonna crash into bed, where I will crash into bed, and even if my shoes will make it to see tomorrow.

What would people never guess about you?

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The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Flying the Skies For (Nearly) Nothing

The only bad thing about finally getting airplane tickets is when you say to your friend, “Yeah, I got these tickets for only $300!” and then they come back and tell you, “Really? $300? I got the same ones to the same place for $100 two weeks ago.”

Even as seasoned travelers, buying airplane tickets can be frustrating, mostly because we are usually broke and not always awesome at math. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. You can have your cake and eat it too. Follow these tips below to always score the best prices and keep the ability to visit a new place and afford dinner.

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1. Keep flexible. Studies show that when it comes to domestic travel, flying on Wednesday is the cheapest day (followed by Tuesday and Saturday) and the most expensive days are Friday and Sunday. Also, and for obvious reasons, flying early in the morning (like six am… may not be worth it after all) is the cheapest time to fly, so you can kiss your eight hours goodbye. The next best times are during lunch hour or the dinner hour.

2. Purchase at strategic times. It’s not just about the time and date you choose to fly… it also has to do with the exact date that you purchase your ticket. Studies show that the best time to purchase tickets is at 3:00 pm on a Tuesday (Tuesdays in general are pretty good for this) while purchasing on the weekends is the worst, since discounts usually get pulled out on Thursdays to beat the weekend rush.

3. Pick off one person at a time. Last time you shopped for you and the family, what did you do? Most likely, you entered in four adult passengers, however, this isn’t the best way to go. When you do this, the airline must sell each person the same price, which is obviously going to be the highest one. Instead, enter each guest, one by one, and you can possibly get some tickets for cheaper.

4. Don’t be an early bird. It is possible to buy tickets too early – that is, more than three months in advance for domestic and four months for international. Before this time, airlines don’t release many of the cheaper seating options available. The best time for purchasing domestic flights is about seven weeks in advance, according to CheapAir.com.

5. Clear out your cookies. This is pretty sketchy, but some airline sites automatically can raise prices based on how many times you have already viewed the page. So if you have looked at United tickets four times this week, the prices will skyrocket because they know you’re pretty serious about snagging these tickets. Make sure to clear your cookies or cache history to fool ’em.

Photo courtesy of Alex Ferrara

Thank You Camera Phone

My 20-year-old ne’er-do-well sister has a $1,000 Nikon camera that she uses to take selfies with on vacation. I have an iPhone which I use to capture centuries-old cathedrals, cerulean seas, wrinkly locals, and flaky pastries.

A couple years ago, this would have really bugged me, since before the time of the iPhone all us reject kids had to use was disposable cameras. Unfortunately, this caused me to miss out on timeless photos from my earlier trips like my first visit to Europe when I went to Norway to meet my long-lost family, a tour of Colorado where we drove from Denver to Ouray to take a look at the wild ponies and the Continental Divide, and my 18-year-old jumping-in-with-both-feet trip backpacking across Europe armed with one other confused teenager.

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These are trips I will always look back on with a smile and read about teenage angst and newness in my old journals, but unfortunately, there really aren’t photos to represent the fog over an early mountain morning or the freeze of a Norwegian lake in the summertime.

However, thanks to the advent of the smart phone, social media blew up, public information went mad, and the world became more interconnected than ever before. But one thing we sometimes forget about in the smart phone, even the camera phone, is that suddenly, everyone had the chance to capture their own images without a $1000 budget and a photo degree.

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I’m not saying that my college roommate has anywhere near as much photography talent, skill, and knowledge as a professional photographer with a budding portfolio – as a trained journalist, I know how annoying it is when people think that when it comes to the arts, it all comes easy and any kind of creative education is worthless. But what I am saying is that I think it’s pretty cool that my college roommate has as much Internet opportunity as anyone else does to capture, edit, and share their images with the world, even if only her grandma and her dad really appreciates them.

A blossoming opportunity for all will never be a bad thing. Instead, now when I venture off to see the world, I’m not hoping that my disposable camera film doesn’t run out or that the photos are too dark – instead, I feel confident to grab every lame sunset and every towering peak, lighten up every color and define every line so that not only can I show my mom the cool places I went, but I can look back on journeys that barely need words alongside them.